Most men think of belts as a necessity to hold up their pants, but belts were worn as a fashionable accessory by men long before they wore trousers. Back in the Bronze Age, belts encircled robes, tunics, and other draped items of clothing. Japanese obis, worn with traditional kimonos, are also a kind of buckleless belt.

As the use of belts evolved, they were worn increasingly by men in military settings, with the intention of emphasizing the trimness of their waists—a tight belt was an indication that a man was fit, strong, and able to put up a good fight. Warriors, knights, and soldiers in cultures all over the world sported elaborate belt buckles to indicate their rank and status. In some cases, belts were also used to hang weapons, tools, pouches, or the precursors to wallets, which were necessary before the invention of pockets.

For women, belts went in and out of fashion. In the Middle Ages, they served the functional purpose of holding small purses and fans, and in the Renaissance, fashionable ladies wore dainty, decorative belts and buckles.

At the end of the Victorian Era, the belt buckle flourished as a decorative-art object. European artisans who subscribed to the principles of Art Nouveau produced metalwork buckles with delicate, sinuous lines. In the American Southwest, members of tribes such as the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni produced silver concho belts and buckles adorned with stones like turquoise for the gawking, railroad-riding tourists to take home. Concho belts are still popular today, although they are often made of cheaper metals.

In general, though, belts were a poor cousin to suspenders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because Victorian fashion demanded that men wear their pants high, belts could not reasonably hold them in place. Around the 1920s, though, it became stylish to wear pants at a more natural waistline, and then men started to turn to belts as a means for keeping their britches up. Even the denim dungarees manufactured by Levi Strauss and Company, which was founded in the 1880s, took until 1922 to feature belt loops.

For women, belts have always been more about adornment than utility. In ladies’ fashion, belts have been used to emphasize or create the appearance of small waists, to spruce up a little black dress, or to coordinate or accent separates. At the turn of the 20th century, women took to boned silk sashes with V-shapes at the front to flaunt their tiny waistlines and complement the trend for blouses and long skirts. Today, women also wear belts on the hips (a trend made popular in the ’60s), or just below the bust line.

Leather, which became a common material for shoes and belts around the turn of the 20th century, is perhaps the most popular material for belts, but belts have been made of every material imaginable—alligator, snakeskin, metal mesh, chain links, beads, canvas, nylon, fake leather, and plastics, to name but a few. Some leather or fake-leather belts are braided, hand-tooled, or studded...

Fashion trends for both men and women have vacillated between wide and skinny belts, as well as belts that can be double looped or tied instead of fastened with buckle. Belts can be embroidered, ruched, beaded, and cutout. Some are adorned with charms, beads, sequins, rhinestones, or bells. High-end designers like Judith Leiber and Christian Dior used belts to extend their fashion statements.

Western-style hand-tooled belts, sometimes with words or names embossed on them, probably came into fashion at the same time Hollywood started producing Western films, making big cowboy belt buckles all the rage among country singers, rodeo competitors, and weekend two-steppers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

8 Pc Sterling Silver Buckle & Tooled Leather Western Belt Reserve!Reyes Neha Inlay Old Pawn Zuni Jet Turquoise Coral Vintage Butterfly Concho BeltVintage Navajo Old Pawn Silver And Turquoise Concho Belt Native American *l80Old Pawn Vintage Navajo Turquoise Sterling Tim Guerro Leather 48" Concho BeltVintage Old Pawn Sterling Silver Navajo Kingman Turquoise Concho Belt Piece NrVintage Navajo Hand-stamped Sterling Silver Turquoise Link Concho Belt 477gramsVintage Sterling Silver | (qty 10) Navajo Concho Belt Pieces 154.5g | Lot Lz6223Vintage Mexican Sterling Silver 22 Concho Belt 38 1/2" X 1/2" Stamped MexicoVintage Handmade Navajo Silver Concho Belt - SignedVersace Leather Medusa Head Studded Belt Rare Xl Large Size Vintage 90sVintage Navajo Concho Story Belt Signed, Sterling Silver W/13 ConchosAntique 1901 Hallmarked British Sterling Silver Belt Art Nouveau Victorian Vtg Womens Gucci Gold Tone Interlocking Double G Black Patent Leather Belt 75/30Vintage Lot 28 Leather Tooled Southwestern Western Cowboy Womens Mens Belts Old Vintage Navajo Lapis Lazuli Sterling Silver Concho BeltA. Testoni Black Leather Dress Belt Genuine Lizard Skin Sz 45 Vintage!Vintage Dunhill Black Leather Belt With Gold Buckle NiceAntique Ottoman Silver Filigree & Gold Wash Belt Late 19th Century- Beautiful.Gorgeous Vintage Colorful Huipil Floral Embroidered Mexican Belt~l~handmadeVintage Hector Aguilar 940 Silver Taxco Mexico Silver And Leather Belt C.1948-62Masters Smathers & Branson Needlepoint Leather Belt Size 40 Vintage Men, ManVintage Brighton Black Leather Belt~huge Heavy Silver Filigree Concho Western NrVintage 14k Gold Chastity Belt Dangling Heart Shaped Dangling Padlock 3d CharmVtg Steerhide Indian Design Hand Beaded Thunderbird Belt 36 Laces Hand TooledRare Vintage Hobbs Brown Wooden Buckle Woven Cotton Leather Trim Belt Aso VgcVintage Floral Tooled Brown Leather Belt W/sterling Silver Buckle,loop & End Ec Vintage Christian Dior Gold Tone Oval Logo Snake Chain Stretch Belt 24"/31" S/mVintage Pre-owned Gucci Brown Leather Trim Monogram Logo Belt Chrome Buckle Vintage Lee Yazzie? Navajo Hand Tooled Sterling Silver Concho BeltVtg 1970's Belt Buckle Handmade Forged Belt Buckle -brutalist Facial DesignCoach 5700 Vintage Burgundy Leather Belt Solid Brass Goldtone Buckle Usa Made 38Antique Victorian Chinese Cloisonne Enamel Dragon Floral Silver Link Belt As IsDooney Bourke 6933 Vintage Multi Color Wool Brown Leather Tab Surcingle Belt 38Three Different Vintage Gold Tone Metal Chain Belts-nautical-red White Blue-ect.Vintage Nickel Silver Blue Faux Turquoise Concho Belt PiecesAntique, Victorian Enameled & Chrome-plated Chatelaine Belt Hook & 2 ChainsVintage Heavy Silver Chain Cross Concho Link Belt 38" Western Couture Boutique Coach Signature Lurex Coach Belt Vintage 2004 Size Large Bordeaux $128Salvatorre Ferragamo Women's Vintage Gancini Logo Belt 28 Italy Black EucVintage Wide! Black Woven Leather 38" Belt Huge Silver Concho Deer Horn BuckleFantastic Vintage Western Cowboy Hand Stained Latitan Tooled Leather Belt 34Vintage White Enamel Mesh Snake Belt Gold Tone Head/tail Blue Sapphire EyesVintage Chaney Sterling Silver Belt Buckle & Single Piece Snake Skin StrapVintage Ysl Yves Saint Laurent Poured Glass Cabochon Chain Necklace Belt 40" BvcVintage Old Pawn Sterling Silver Navajo Kingman Turquoise Concho Belt 2" Oval NrVintage Turquoise Inlay & Silver Tone Belt Authentic C1970 Flower Power Embroidered Hippie Belt Gilt Buckle By ArosCool Vtg Brighton 1993 Sunflower Black Leather Concho Southwestern Belt Size M1.25" Vintage Sterling Silver Native American Concho Saddle Or Belt AttachmentVintage Belt Lot Sequins Elizabeth Regina Coins Aluminum Lucite Charmant BuckleVintage 1970's Belt - Brown Tan Beaded Suede Laced LeatherVintage Hand Tooled Leather Belt Made Usa Western Country Buckle Sz 28-30Exc. Authentic Vintage Gucci Brown Leather "gg" Belt-38/95Vintage Christian Dior Scallop Chain Silver & Faux Turquoise Belt Anonymous Vintage Bombe Crocodile Alligator Gloss Brown Golden Slide Buckle BeltVintage Augusta National Masters Golf Green Leather Fabric Mount Ribbon Belt 32Decadent Vintage 90s Ralph Lauren Frogged Tassel Fringe Boudoir Sash Wrap Belt Vintage Justin Tooled Leather Western Cowboy Belt 34Vintage Judith Leiber Etruscan Gold Double Eagle Buckle 36" Black Leather BeltVintage Kno Swank Wholecut Alligator Crocodile Gold Tone Slide Buckle Belt 32 Nr